HISTORY OF STOCKTON
The quaint community of Stockton, Alabama lies in the northern part of Baldwin County. A county created by the Mississippi Territorial Legislature on December 21, 1809.
In its earliest history, Stockton was the site of the ancient town of “Tensa” Indians, evidenced by the many artificial mounds of earth and other ruins found here. During that period of Stockton’s history, this area was known as the “Tensa” country.
In the Treaty of 1763, the Tensa settlement was ceded by the French to the British. Beginning around 1776, the Tensa Bluff was the scene of great activity and development. Major Robert Farmar, the former English commander from Mobile, resigned his post, and procured from St. Michael, an Indian Chief of the Creek Nation, a grant of 12,800 acres of land on each side of the Tensa River. Here he built a residence, which Hamilton in his Colonial Mobile describes as a “mansion”. He also operated a trading post on the site. The area then began to be referred to as “Farmar’s Bluff”.
When Major Farmar died around 1778, Cornelius McCurtain acquired all of his holdings on the Tensa River. In his petition, he stated that he had already taken possession of the property and, at considerable expense, had built a house. He, therefore, acquired ownership of a vast holdings at no cost to him.
During the years of 1790-1799, many families came to the Tensa area. It quickly became the most populous community in south Alabama except for the city of Mobile.
It is important in the history of the town of Stockton, that the boundary line which established the division between the Mississippi Territory and Spanish West Florida, runs directly through the community. After the establishment of the Ellicott boundary line between the American and Spanish territories, Americans came into the Tensa Bluff and Tensa River settlements. These were for the most part Tory refugees who migrated here from Georgia and South Carolina during the American Revolution.
Before the “Old Federal Road” was established, the means of transportation consisted of Indian foot trails and the rivers. The Europeans who came, made no effort to construct better means of transportation. Water transportation became even more important as port and trading posts were established. Stockton was in a prime location, and social life on the river thrived.
In 1810, McCurtain having died, his widow with her new husband, deeded all of their combined holdings in the former Major Farmar, Cornelius McCurtain and Bosarge claims to Joshua Kennedy. Kenney built a residence in the area of the “Old Live Oak” road on the hill over looking the site of his mill which was one of, if not the first mills in Alabama.
During the era of the stage lines, Stockton was the terminus for the line that ran from the eastern portion of the state. Here, it made connection with the grand river steamers that plied the river between Stockton and the City of Mobile.
The early residents of the settlement engaged in shipbuilding, and statesmen, merchants, and all manner of travelers could be seen loitering around the taverns of old Dutch John and others, awaiting the arrival of the stage and steamer. Stockton was one of the greatest cotton shipping towns in the state. The settlement had become a community of size down on the Tensa River. Boats plied the Tensa carrying produce raised in the community for sale in Mobile, returning with commodities needed by the residents of the settlement of Stockton.
The town during this period of its history had two or three stores, as many bar rooms, and several hotels. The atmosphere down on the river was for the most part very lawless. Drinking was plentiful, especially on election days, and occasional gunfights occurred in the streets.
There is no record of any schools or churches existing in the community at this time. The state of religion was much the same here as it was in other areas. There were many who professed to be Christians, but the majority of the inhabitants were too involved in clearing new ground, erecting new homes and harvesting their crops to devote much time or thought to their religion.
Benjamin Medcalf, one of the earliest to settle in the community, left $500 in his will for the purpose of building a church, marking the graves of his family, and erecting an iron fence around the plot. Medcalf’s death in 1843 led to the building of the old “Union Church”, in 1845; the first Presbyterian Church in the county.
The U. S. Mail service delivered mail from Montgomery, Alabama by stage coach twice a week to Stockton. In 1855 the United States government started a mail service between Mobile, Stockton and Claiborne, Alabama. Steamers were awarded contracts for carrying the mail, each leaving Mobile twice a week, touching at Stockton, which was connected to Montgomery by the stage line.
Stockton had everything required for a town to be formed. The steam boats were making regular stops, transporting commodities to and from the City of Mobile, the area had a post office, and people were attracted to the vast timbered forest and rich farm lands that existed in the community and surrounding areas.
Joshua Kennedy, whose mill had been operating on Rain’s and Flat Creeks since 1811, could foresee what a fortune could be made in the area, and decides the time was prime to incorporate the land that he owned on the river, turning it into a formal town.
Kennedy died in 1840 without having completed his plan. His son-in-law, William Kitchen, had worked on the idea with Kennedy and shared his dream, and in 1839 he succeeded in incorporating the Town of Stockton, laying out streets and naming them after the settlers.
That same year, Kitchen formed a partnership with Ward Taylor to establish new stage coach line that made the 192 mile trip from Montgomery to Blakely. One of the first stage stops in Stockton was the Hammond house which was located in the center of the Stockton community on the present Highway 59.
The new comers who sought out this community to settle, began to build on hill area of the community, away from the mosquitoes and the rough atmosphere that existed down by the river. These were good men, and though poor in worldly goods, and no influence except their moral character, by their energy and perseverance, gradually built up a public sentiment which has never faltered or abated until Stockton became a model village. The moral impetus started by these pioneers of the community have been sustained and carried forward by their descendants until the present.
The introduction of the railroad ended the need for a stage coach line. Stockton, from the time of its early settlement to 1860, had been an important shipping port, but the L & N Railroad and the great hurricane of that year, destroyed the commercial importance of the town, leaving it isolated and dependent on its own resources.
Stockton had one advantage, however. Our farm lands on the river bottoms were more fertile than most. Fine cotton plantations began to be cleared where five years earlier, nothing but the hoot of the horn owl and the roar of the crocodile were heard. The vegetable crops came early with a growing season that lasted from March until the middle of November.
Sawmills became an a favorite industry of the early residents in the settlement. With the immense cypress and pine forests in the immediate vicinity of the community, the mills of Hastie and Silver were manufacturing beautiful lumber, which remains unsurpassed in all the world.
After the Civil War, the McMillan and Son mill began operation, producing and shipping their products to New Orleans and later to Boston, Massachusetts by schooners that came up the Tensaw River.
These mills brought economic status to the community, and the town of Stockton began to truly emerge and come into it’s own. Timber and saw milling were the main stays of the community during this period in Stockton’s history. While the cypress mills were operating at full speed and up until 1880-90, sailing vessels from European ports came into Mobile Bay and up the Tensaw River to the Stockton Landing, where they loaded the lumber produced by the mills carrying it back to their home ports.
At one time, four doctors resided in the community at the same time, faithfully serving the people of Stockton and surrounding areas. There were also three to four “general mercantile” stores in operation to supply the needs of the residents.
For many years, Stockton enjoyed the operations of Bacon McMillan and J. M. McMillan sawmills. The mill whistle was the clock of the communities residents, blowing at eight in the morning to signal the beginning to a new day, at noon, and at “quitting time”. If you heard it blow any other time, you new that something was wrong in the community, and everyone hurried to the aid of whoever or whatever was in need. Together, these two mills not only provided employment to most of the towns residents, but their owners were quick to meet the individual needs of the people and the community of Stockton.
When the downward spiral hit the timber industry several years ago, it forced the closure of these last two remaining sawmill operations. It brought an end to the industry that had a been a mainstay of the settlement from as early as 1811. The community and its residents suffered a hard blow. Yet, through it all, the community of Stockton has continued to survive, maintaining its charm and heritage.